FULL TEXT: There may have been more wicked families in Sodom and Gomorrah of old than the Shaffleback family of Galena, Kan., three of whose members have recently been found guilty of murder; but it may be doubted if a more loathsome set of people ever before existed on this continent, either in a state of civilization or savagery, than the moral monsters, the Stafflebacks, who have trafficked in every crime and vice from thievery to butchery, and two of whom, at least, will spend the remainder of their lives in prison. George and Ed Staffleback have been found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to the penitentiary for life, while the mother, hoary in crime as in years – she is now 65 – has been found guilty of murder in the second degree and will no doubt end her years in prison, having received a twenty-five-year sentence.
Nancy Staffleback has led a most remarkable career of crime and has trained her progeny to follow in her footsteps. Of her thirteen children not one has led an upright life, and not one has a trait of character to redeem, even in part, the general coarseness and criminality of their natures. She was born in Allegan County, New York. Her maiden name was Chase and her early years were spent in Wisconsin. Through her mother she inherited a strain of Wyandotte Indian blood, and perhaps this may have had something to do with the natural of her character. When a young girl she met a Swiss, Michael Shaffleback, in Dubuque, Iowa. After some changes they moved to Lawrence County, Missouri, where they settled on a farm. Here they quarreled. The husband was charged by his wife and some of his children with unmentionable crimes, and the husband accused the wife of crimes equally revolting to both moral and natural laws. The result was that the husband left the neighborhood and has not since been heard from. The airing of their family differences in court had the effect of making Lawrence County too hot for Nancy and her brood, and they moved to a place known as Swindle Hill, in the town of Joplin, Jasper County. It was a fit abode for such characters.
Here congregated the degraded of both sexes, women who had forgotten the meaning of decency and men who were practiced in every crime. A man’s life was not safe in the place after dark and policemen never ventured into it singly. Here the Stafflebacks lived several years, the sons practicing thievery and other crimes, for which some of them received sentences In jail, and the girls consorting with the degraded of both sexes.
They committed one murder, at least, here, but the story of this will come later. Ultimately the vile den of the Stafflebacks was raided and two of the sons were sent to the penitentiary.
~ In a Hotbed of Crime. ~
Three years ago the family moved to “Picker’s Point,” an unsavory place on the outskirts of Galena. They took up their abode in a long desert shanty, within a few rods of which were a number of deserted shafts, where some time or other men had prospected for lead or zinc. The place is a hotbed of crime. Scattered around are miserable hovels, the homes of depraved women and men. Here vice reaches a depth that decency dare not attempt to describe. Rough miners, many of them foreigners, frequent the hovels and gamble and drink and swear. Ribald revelry is often interrupted by a fight that ends in murder. Then the shafts, the silent, yawning pits of the ground, are charged with another victim, which they receive into their dark depths never to yield again. If these shafts were to-day made to give up their ghastly tenants fully fifty undiscovered murders would be revealed.
Amid such congenial surroundings the Staffleback family resumed their career of crime. At this time the family consisted of Mother Nance, Ed. George, Mike, Cora, Louisa and Emma. All these were children of the old woman except Cora, who was married to George.
The latter and Ed had a short time before been released from the penitentiary and had joined the family at Picker’s Point.”
And now another man, Charles Wilson, who passed as a husband of Nancy, drifted into the gang. Two girls, Rosa Bayne and Anna McComb, also took up their abode with the Staffleback family. In their different ways these people led their criminal lives, with Mother Nance acting as the evil genius of the gang. Time and again the den in which they lived was raided and one or more was arrested for some petty offense. But the gang took this as a matter of course.
Last June, however, occurred an event that brought the Stafflebacks to grief. This was the murder of a miner, Frank Galbraith. He had gone to the Staffleback house on invitation from Emma, but the old woman had refused him admittance. He returned and then a row began. This is the story of it as given by Anna McComb, who witnessed the affair:
“I heard the row begin and stepped outside and around the corner of the log hut. The old woman grabbed her corn knife and ran Galbraith out of the house. Then Wilson and Ed got their guns and began shooting at Galbraith, who started to run down the road. Wilson fired first, but missed. Then Ed fired, and I could tell that he hit him, for Frank put his hand to his hip and fell. But he got right up again and ran on. He couldn’t run very fast, and Ed ran alongside of him, put his gun to his head and fired. Frank threw his hand up to his head and fell by the side of the road. Ed took the knife the old woman and started to finish Frank by cutting his throat. All this time me and Cora had been running along after them. I grabbed Ed by the arm and begged him not to do it. “Let me alone, or I’ll slit your throat,” he said. Then he turned and cut Galbraith’s throat. The blood spurted out. The old woman took the knife and wiped it on her apron.
“I felt sick and me and Cora lay down in the weeds so that we could see them and they couldn’t see us. They thought we had gone to the house. I was afraid to look until Cora whispered “They’re pulling his clothes off.” Then I looked. I saw Ed take him by the shoulders, and George took one leg and Wilson the other. They carried him to the old shaft and threw him in.
A month later the body of Galbraith was seen floating at the bottom of the shaft, and an investigation into the crime was Ed, George and Staffleback were arrested, tried and convicted of the murder, and an effort was made to apprehend Wilson, who was also implicated in the killing. Wilson, however, had fled and the authorities are now searching for him.
The arrest of the Stafflebacks led to other horrible disclosures. Released from the fear in which they had of the Stafflebacks, Cora Staffleback (George’s wife) and Rosa Bayne tell stories of murders committed by this family. Two years ago two girls took up their abode in the Staffleback house. One night in a fit of passion Mike Staffleback beat one of them into insensibility and finally death, and lest the other girl should tell of the affair she was beaten to death by Ed Staffleback. The brothers then wrapped the bodies in sheets and threw them down an abandoned shaft.
A short time afterward the brothers, Mike, Ed and George, attacked and killed a peddler who was stopping over night at the house divided his money.
Another murder of which member of the Staffleback family are guilty was that of an old soldier named Rodabaugh. Ed, Mike and a man named Billy Martin, a brother of Mike’s wife made away with him while the Stafflebacks were living in Joplin. He was killed for $35 in pension money which he was known to have on his person.
Still murder the Stafflebacks are believed to have committed while In Joplin is that of a man named Moorhouse. Moorhouse mysteriously disappeared while there, and from conversations held between the Stafflebacks. Cora Staffleback is of the opinion that the man was murdered.
Mike Staffleback is now serving a term in the penitentiary. When he is free he will be arrested for some of the murders in which he took part.
[“Crime Their Trade. - From Petty Thievery To Horrible Murders. - The Infamous Staffleback Family Ran the Gamut - Two of Them Are Under a Life Sentence, While the Mother Is Given Twenty Years. - Moral Monsters.” The Argus (Holbrook, Az.), Nov. 13, 1897, p. 2]
Unnamed Italian Peddlar
Edward’s girlfriend, about 18-years-old, living with the family
Unnamed girl, about 18-years-old, living with the family
Mr. Rodabaugh, retired soldier
Frank Galbraith, miner
3 Serial Killer Clans in 19th Century Kansas:
For similar cases, see Murder-Coaching Moms
3 Serial Killer Clans in 19th Century Kansas:
1873 – Kate Bender (“Bloody Benders”) – Cherry Vale, Kansas, USA
1887 – Kate & Kit Kelly (Kelly Family) – No Man’s Land, Kansas, USA
To be added:
[“Mrs. Staffleback Died In Prison – The Mistress of the Famous Murder Farm At Galena Succumbs To Pneumonia – In Agony At Her Disgrace – Her Husband And Son, Both In Convict Garb, At Bedside When Death Came – She Was Convicted of a Series of Murders Reminiscent of the Benders and Mrs. Gunness – Abandoned Well Was Full of Corpses.” The Leavenworth Times (Ks.), Mar 11, 1909, p. 1]
For similar cases, see Murder-Coaching Moms